Although the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree is the world's most famous steeplechase, the most prestigious National Hunt race meeting is the Cheltenham Festival, with eleven Grade 1 jump races carded over 4 days. An average of 50,000 fans come daily to watch the best jump races of the year. Since the Festival often coincides with St. Patrick's Day (which falls next Sunday), half the crowd is from Ireland, in to cheer on their runners in a friendly head-to-head competition with the English-based horses. It is National Hunt's equivalent of the Breeders' Cup or Royal Ascot, while the Grand National is more like the Kentucky Derby.
Kicking off the Festival on Tuesday March 12 was the £120,000 William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle (G1). A field of 12 horses aged 4 and up contested this 2 1/16 mile trip over 8 hurdles. Jockey Ruby Walsh sent 5-1 second choice Champagne Fever to the lead and he set the pace while stalked by 6-1 fourth choice Un Atout and 15-8 favorite My Tent Or Yours. With 2 hurdles to go, My Tent Or Yours put in a challenge but Champagne Fever held him off by 1/2 a length in 3:55.60 over the soft course. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to 5-1 Jezki third.
Winning jockey Ruby Walsh said, "It's magic - he just came alive the last fortnight. I didn't ride him work last week but I was watching him work at the Curragh with Willie and we both kind of looked at each other. It was scintillating. Patrick (Mullins, trainer's son) has always maintained he was a two-miler and an out-and-out galloper - he was dead right. He wasn't doing a whole lot in front, but I knew AP (McCoy, aboard My Tent or Yours) was coming to me as I could feel the crowd revving up. When AP got to him, he stuck his head down and away he went again."